It's a lot of excitement for a game involving two of the bottom four teams in the NHL's Eastern Conference, but meetings between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are never routine.
“It's like a mini-playoffs,” Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek said Friday of back-to-back meetings this week between the old rivals.
The Canadiens survived a furious first-period onslaught to pull out a 2-1 victory in Boston on Thursday night and the teams go at it again on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
The loss dropped the Bruins (3-6-0) into the Eastern Conference cellar, which is where Montreal (3-5-2) was before pulling off consecutive wins this week over Philadelphia and Boston.
Bad blood between the clubs boiled over in a fight-filled game at the TD Garden late last season and a nasty incident in a March 8 meeting in Montreal, when Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty was shoved into a stanchion by towering defenceman Zdeno Chara.
Pacioretty suffered a fractured vertebra and a concussion that ended his season, although he fully recovered from both and is leading Montreal in scoring this season.
It turned out that the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, with the Bruins coming back after dropping the first two games at home to squeak out an overtime victory in Game 7. Then they went on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
“There was lots of emotion (Thursday) night and it will probably carry into (the next game),” said Spacek. “But I don't mind.
“Sometimes when you really play back-to-back, like the next day, that's even tougher because that's real emotion there. We have one day off between games and we'll be all right.”
“There's always a lot of emotion when you play Boston, no matter what the circumstances,” added defenceman Josh Gorges. “You can go as far back in history as you want to talk about emotion between these two teams.
“It makes the game fun. It was fast paced, high energy, a lot of emotion. Those are the games you want to be part of.”
The game in Boston marked the first time Pacioretty played the Bruins since the Chara incident, but nothing came of it. The two had spoken to each other after the incident and both consider the matter settled.
That is not the case for Montreal police, who said this week they still have the incident under review but have not decided whether to lay charges against Chara, although it appears unlikely given that seven months have passed with no action taken. Even Pacioretty tweeted in June that he hopes Chara is “NOT prosecuted.”
Chara will likely be booed by the Bell Centre crowd each time he touches the puck, but they did even before the Pacioretty hit.
For all the hitting in Boston, the only fisticuffs were more comic relief than anger as slick defenceman P.K. Subban laughed his way through a harmless bout with his former Canadian junior squad teammate Brad Marchand, just after both were twice sent off for coincidental minors.
Voters on hockeyfights.com gave the decision to Marchand, with one critic remarking on Subban's “overly dramatic, zero-technique, lunge-punches.” The website lists Subban's fight record at 1-4, with his only win last February over Toronto's Joffrey Lupul.
When asked about the fight, coach Jacques Martin winced and said: “I don't know if he's a fighter after looking at that game. I'm not sure if he wants to get into that business. And I don't think he needs to. For me, that's not his strength. The focus should be: do your job and do it well.”
Martin was not impressed that Subban took a minor early in the game.
“Sometimes it's going to happen, but he has to learn that against most teams he's going to be a target, so the way you respond to that is to be at the top of your game and by playing well.”
The Canadiens are 2-0-0 since assistant coach Perry Pearn was fired just before their win over the Flyers on Wednesday night. None of the players point any fingers at Pearn, a veteran coach who was Martin's close ally, but it seemed to work as shock therapy.
“It was another wake up call for us,” said Gorges. “This game is about winning and if you don't win, someone's going to be gone.
“We understood the circumstances. We like every guy in this room. We like our team. And we don't want to see any players traded to wake the team up, so we responded by playing our hardest.”
The move also allowed first-year assistant Randy Ladouceur to move behind the bench after starting the season as press-box spotter, adding some of the in-game chatter and emotion missing since Kirk Muller left to become head coach of AHL Milwaukee.
The improved play has also coincided with the return from injury of Spacek, who had a strong game in Boston.
The Canadiens hope that top defenceman Andrei Markov has moved closer to a return from his second knee operation in as many seasons. Markov was due to arrive in Montreal on Saturday after three weeks of rehab, without skating, under the watch of his surgeon in Florida.
Martin said Markov will need to skate on his own for a week or two before he can begin practising with the team.
Centre Scott Gomez (upper body) has resumed skating on his own but is not yet ready to practise with his teammates.